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I started a quest to find terrific blues music and incredible musicianship when I was just a little kid. I also have a tremendous appreciation of fine musical instruments and equipment. One of my greatest joys all of my life was sharing my finds with my friends. I'm now publishing my journey. I hope that you come along!

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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Dennis Gruenling - one of the BADDEST harp players!

Rockin' All Day!
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VizzTone Proudly Welcomes Dennis Gruenling!

    DENNIS GRUENLING is without a doubt one of the baddest, swingingest, most innovative harmonica blowers on the planet.  His dynamic style draws inspiration not only from Blues icons like Little Walter, but also from great jazz horn players like Lester Young and Illinois Jacquet. Equally adept at chromatic and diatonic harmonica, Dennis rocks and swings with a vengeance — snapping his fingers,  blowing cool and soulful lines with a natural ease as the band drives with a steady, swinging beat.
    “ROCKIN’ ALL DAY” is a solid house party record.  It features Gruenling’s touring partner, singer/guitarist DOUG DEMING, who is also a recently-signed VizzTone artist.  Serious road dogs, in August 2012 Dennis, Doug and the band embarked on an East Coast tour of 28 shows in 26 days!  Doug shares Dennis’s passion for the jump blues that once dominated the airwaves.  He can turn heads with his tasty guitar licks, as his scintillating vocals are punctuated by Gruenling’s potent harp fills. Half the tracks feature Doug’s regular band, The Jewel Tones –the rest of the cuts feature players Dennis has worked with over the years in his road band.  The record was recorded in Sarasota, FL, by Ed Kinder, and in Glen Ridge, NJ, by frequent collaborator and VizzTone labelmate DAVE GROSS.

    In his spare time, Dennis can be found teaching other harp players, and every Thursday afternoon you can hear his “Blues & the Beat” radio program on WFDU-FM in New Jersey, with Dennis playing a host of rare records from his vast  collection.

  • Awarded “Best Modern Blues Harmonica Player” 3 years in a row from REAL BLUES MAGAZINE
  • “Dennis Gruenling has become the new harp player’s harp player…one of the most critically acclaimed of his generation” – JUKE JOINT SOUL
  • “Gruenling is a spectacular harmonica player, easily one of the best recording today…” – BLUES BYTES
  • “Dennis Gruenling is a leading light among a new generation of blues harp players...a true innovator... Gruenling stands poised to claim a spot in the pantheon of blues harp greats” - BLUES REVUE
A Harp Player's Take on Dennis Gruenling's Technique
            —by Richard Rosenblatt
(Non harp-playing readers beware:  Turn back now, read no further, lest you catch a glimpse into the dark recesses of a harmonica player's brain.  It's not pretty, and you may turn to salt.)
   ROCKIN' ALL DAY by DENNIS GRUENLING is, among other things, a very advanced Blues Harmonica Master Class.  Dennis is above all things MUSICAL, never letting his technical prowess overshadow the feel of the song nonetheless, his technique is nothing short of monstrous.  He favors third position, chromatics and low-tuned harmonicas (some VERY low), not using anything above a standard Bb diatonic harp on the entire album.  He kicks it off playing "Rockin' All Day" in the key of Bb - 3rd position on a G chromatic (button mostly IN.) He uses that same harp and position on "Saturday Night Fish Fry" and "The Rev", which starts in A (button mostly out) and modulates up to Bb. For the Wynonie Harris classic "Bloodshot Eyes", Dennis blows 3rd position on a Bb chromatic. While Dennis totally nails the big, tongue-blocked chromatic tone pioneered by Little Walter and George Smith, he moves up and down the big harp with a supple, fluid feel that recalls the great Big Band horn players.
    Hohner has been custom-manufacturing low-tuned harps for Dennis Gruenling for some time.  Now that they're distributing them to the general public as “Thunderbird” harmonicas, Dennis's picture is on the box, and it's no surprise — he totally OWNS the lower octaves of this instrument.  It takes a special embouchure to control the harmonica's reeds once they go below a "standard" tuning, and Dennis hits every bend with precision, every note with clarity and punch.  "Roll Your Money Maker" begins with Dennis playing a Bb harp, 2nd position in the key of F, then halfway through the solo it drops a full octave as he switches to a LOW Bb harp.  I never even knew these things existed!  He plays a low D in "You Can Do No Wrong", a LOW low G on "Actin' Crazy", and a SUPER LOW F on "What's Wrong With Me."  When he picks up a regular Low F harp for a gorgeous 3rd position take on "One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer", it seems positively midrange.
    Believe me, this is no novelty act.  Dennis works the lower registers with power and grace, but he also breathes significant new life into the "standard" harmonica tunings. "She's So Pretty", cross harp on a standard Bb, has a classic Chicago attack, much like Walter or Cotton behind Muddy Waters;   "It Went Down Easy" is a cool, down-tempo swing played in 2nd position on an Ab harp; "2:22 A.M.", 2nd position on a Bb harp, gives a nod to Walter's "Sad Hours" (and it IS a couple hours past Quarter to Twelve…) with gigantic tone and tongue flutters; and "Hotso" is a rockin' 3rd position romp on a standard A harp. Dennis blazes new ground with taste and substance, avoiding show-offy riffs for the perfect, swinging groove.
    As a harp player, listening to this album is a humbling experience…  but if your ego can take the blow, repeated listens will make you a better player, and a better MUSICIAN.

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